: From my understanding, the Brits took raw materials out of America and re-exported them back as finished products. Is that capitalism too?
As long as the Brits were having raw materials (constant capital) processed by WAGE-laborers (variable capital) to produce a profit (surplus value, or labor-power producing more than what it requires for survival / reproduction), then the criteria for capitalism has been met.
Mercantilism would simply be buying, say, (finished) silk from one country and selling it (at a higher price) to another.
The difference: mercantilism is buying cheap and selling high whereas capitalism is paying labor-power less than what it produces.
: I know that the Spaniards took precious metals, primarily, out of the new world to fill their treasury believing that this was 'wealth'.
No production process, no capital.
: OK, let's shift gears. 100 years hence. Socialism is universal. Inter-country and inter-continental trading has survived societal upheavals. In the absence of capitalism, how do some countries, especially those that today cannot offer anything but raw materials to the rest of the world, deal w/ other countries that are more developed? Won't the more developed nations set some sort of 'fair'price on commodities from the less developed nations?
What a great question!
Why do the classic Marxists---including Marx---presuppose various nations trading materials at their real value? I believe this assumption is based upon the (Marxist) truism that, even under capitalist relations, materials are exchanged at their true value (the profit, remember, stems from paying labor-power less than what it produces). To raise a price above its real value is to only invite others to do so as well (negating the original advantage):
The industrial capitalists themselves consume one part of their product (or profit). They cannot possibly enrich themselves by swindling themselves and selling their products to themselves at a dearer price than they themselves have paid for them. Nor can any one of them swindle the others in this way. If A sells his product, which the industrial capitalist B consumes, at too dear a price, then B sells his product, which the industrial capitalists consumes, at too dear a price. It is the same thing as if A and B had sold their products to each other at their real value.(1)
(And the other catagories---capitalists selling to laborers + capitalists selling to idle gentry---are explained in due fashion as well...)
NONETHELESS it is also a (Marxist) truism that less productive labor-power must meet the lower prices of more productive labor-power. That is how the advanced countries get the better of the less developed ones in trade: the labor-power of undeveloped countries is always less productive, hence it must put out more to meet its obligations to more advanced countries.
BUT the whole communist idea DEMANDS a high level of industrialization for ALL countries. It also demands that labor ceases to be bought and sold, thus mitigating the trade inequities of the past.
But to get down to the nitty-gritty of your question, Frenchy, a communist planned economy demands that such national chauvinisms become eradicated as laborers worldwide take control of production. There is an element of faith here and you, rather shrewdly, have discovered that...
Your suspicions are well-founded and would be well-heeded by communists in order to PREVENT such situations from arising.
Again: great question!
1. Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value volume one, Progress Publishers 1963, p. 272.